Built hundreds of website and helped countless schools realise their potential online. Ian should be called upon for straight-talking advice and to make a difference to the way you present your school through every outlet.
I'm writing this piece with two hats on.
1/ I've overseen the development of hundreds of school websites and apps over the years and lead a team that is passionate about making school websites easier and easier to manage, even as the load on schools gets greater.
2/ I'm the dad of a little man who is starting school in September 2017 and within the next few weeks we need to make some choices about where we'd like him to begin his school journey. Arran has Down's Syndrome.
Nicole and I have been struck by something that has become a slight concern as we looked at more and more school websites in our local area. We then looked further afield to see what the picture looks like nationally.
Schools are, as a rule, getting better and better at meeting the requirements set by OFSTED for their school websites. We've noticed though (with the exception of most special schools) the information about their provision for children with additional needs is, to be nice about it, somewhat lacking. And it's something that every prospective parent will look for and will rightly expect to get an accurate taste of what life is like in your school.
There's no doubt that most of the staff in most of the schools that we have spoken with are passionate about welcoming our children with open arms and doing all they can to support them. Some schools naturally have more experience, or are better equipped to meet the needs of a child such as ours.
With that in mind, there's a few things that it would be amazing to see appear on school websites around the country as we work with and support more and more over the coming months and years.
This isn't written as any form of indictment; we fully appreciate that you have your hands full and know you do an incredible job. But hopefully all children will be given the same consideration when you talk about your school online.
Here's just a few, easy to action steps that will make a significant difference.
It's part of the statutory expectation on schools to provide detailed information about how you support children with additional needs. Most schools present this information in the form of policies in a policies section. Some schools have written really great content that tells prospective and current parents about the offer but it is in a document, in a section on SEN that needs to be downloaded to be read.
There's maybe not a lot wrong with that because you're doing a great job of writing super, helpful, welcoming content. But it would be brilliant if this was given the same attention as the other sections. The same websites have lots of pages with beautiful photos of children doing lots of fantastic activities.
That's just not true of the content that is for SEN families. I fear that it doesn't accurately reflect how schools leaders or the school as a whole thinks or feels about children with additional needs, so that just needs a little thought.
Nicole said just yesterday, "I've read that many policies I can't see the wood for the trees."
Following on from the last tip, try to include content and photos of all the children (taking into consideration restrictions for looked-after children etc of course) involved in day to day activity throughout your site like you would any other child.
That's not to say you should go overboard, placing obligatory photos of certain children just to fit a quota, but if you have children with additional needs in your school and you're doing a great job supporting them, celebrate it!
We would love to see clear evidence of how effective your school is at including those children who need extra help. Confining all talk of additional needs support to one section doesn't sell that to us as parents.
Most of all we want to know what life is like day to day in your school, just like any other parents do. We're definitely harder to please but that's because the needs are greater. We are generally more protective of our children but that's because they're more vulnerable.
At a time when the cutting of costs means that places at special schools are harder and harder to access and services outside of schools are becoming more and more limited, sadly the pressure grows on schools. As parents we're looking for reassurance that there are schools that can help our children.
We're in a hugely privileged position to visit countless schools and see the incredible work you're doing every day. Most people aren't. Shout about it and parents and families such as ours will be so grateful.
Simply add your email and you'll get expert advice weekly, direct to your inbox.